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CHAPTER 3

From thesis to book

The average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but a transference of


bones from one graveyard to another.
J. Frank Dobie

If you are looking to rework a thesis into a book (or, say, are
the supervisor of someone in that position) then this chapter has
information specific to theses that is not found elsewhere. All other
readers should feel free to skip this chapter.

The pressures of junior scholarship


This volume is about getting your book published; we do not believe
that a thesis in its pure form is publishable, and as a consequence we
are not going to discuss the highs and lows of writing a thesis here for
that, you have your supervisor. However, theses (which by definition
are required to be original contributions to scholarship) have been the
basis of many great monographs, and that makes them highly relevant
to this companion.
Most junior scholars will have been living off a doctoral grant
that suddenly expires, so finding a new source of income is impera-
tive. For those looking to make a career in the academic world, this
is the crunch time. The available options may be a junior teaching
position or a post-doctoral grant for a limited period of time, neither
of which is a sinecure, and neither of which is particularly well paid
but both of which could well involve a stressful and time-consuming
move to a different part of the country, or even a move abroad.

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Getting Published

Invariably there is also the firm expectation from peers and


superiors that a series of publications will be delivered, not least a
monograph. Indeed, building a good list of publications is an abso-
lute must if you are to progress in your climb towards the pinnacle of
the ivory tower. The pressure is on from Day One.
So, you find yourself with very little time on your hands, with
a massive pressure to publish, and with a major piece of writing
recently completed. Is the solution blindingly obvious? Sadly not.

Why is a thesis not a book?


Some of the pointers in Chapter 5 on preparing the manuscript may
be useful to you when writing your thesis. What we do not suggest,
however, is that you set out to write a monograph and submit this as
your thesis. At first glance, this might look like a neat way of avoiding
the laborious task of reworking the thesis after its completion. The
reality, however, is that such a monographic thesis would most likely
be unacceptable to your supervisors and external examiners because
it would lack several elements normally deemed vital in a thesis that
tend to be pared down or absent in a book. In other words, do not even
think of it.
Whether a thesis is submitted as photocopied and ring-bound
A4 pages or as a properly printed and bound book-shaped object, its
contents are fundamentally different to what we expect to find in a
scholarly book. The main differences are shown opposite. Note that
the thesis and monograph are both equally valid forms of scholarly
communication; they simply have different forms and purposes that
require quite different treatments by their authors.
Common in some countries is the requirement that PhD can-
didates deliver many copies of their doctoral thesis as part of their
defence handing over up to 300 copies is not unusual. In other
countries, theses are published by their authors university depart-
ments or faculties in book form. Of course, only a few copies are
needed to conduct the defence; often the majority are used to fund
the host universitys library exchange programme.

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From Thesis to Book

Main differences between a thesis and a book


A typical thesis A good scholarly book
Form Often book-like Book
Length Often a lower limit, but not Limited by market forces
always an upper limit
Author Student Writer (with obligations to
readers)
purpose To prove competence and To communicate ideas
academic credentials
Readership Panel of examiners Colleagues and anyone else
interested in the subject
purpose To examine student Learning
Focus on Author Reader
Scholarship Exposition required Absorbed and built on
role To demonstrate knowledge To frame discourse
Approach Defensive exposition Open disclosure
Treatment of Often highly technical and Avoids unnecessary
subject very detailed technical detail
Language Often obscure, abstract Clear with judicious use
and heavy on jargon of technical terms where
needed
Structure Often progressive Organic unity, narrative
recitation thread
Narrative flow Orderly exposition but Builds argument, linking
argument not built; often chapters with subtlety; has
excessive signposting pace and momentum
Ending Often ends quite abruptly Wrapped by conclusions
Methodology Detailed description Description only if and
required when relevant
Quotations Necessary, often extensive Limited use
Referencing Often far more than strictly Only what is necessary
necessary
Evaluation Feedback from supervisor; Publishers commercial
before final assessment by panel assessment, peer-review
of examiners process and editorial input
after Formal defence Peer reactions in journals
and other external forums

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Traditionally, these theses were photocopied, with great wads


of A4 paper thus received by somewhat unenthusiastic exchange li-
braries. Increasingly, however, we see them produced in book form,
often striking in appearance. University libraries are still exchanging
these with other libraries, but the excess copies these days are often
passed on to a book distributor to see if through sales they can wring
a little profit out of the book. Aesthetically it may be pleasing to
have such a thesis on ones bookshelf, and it may be flattering to see
it listed in a publishers catalogue.
However, we would argue that in fact this book could harm your
future academic career, often quite severely. Why? As we have said, a
thesis is not a book, and nor is it perceived as such by scholars, who
like libraries have limited budgets. Rarely do you see them actually
buying a copy of a thesis, should this be commercially available. Fair
or not, theses do not have a high perceived value. Thus, perhaps 50 or
100 copies of your thesis are exchanged, a handful sold, and a dozen
given away in connection with your defence. The depressing fact is
that this could be enough to deter a publisher from taking on your
study and working with you to produce a monograph that would have
a perceived value and might earn you a reputation and a job offer.
As a PhD student you may well have no say in this matter at all,
but we believe this is a practice that should at least be questioned by
students and their supervisors, and discussed with those within the
university who do have a say. It is entirely possible that the technical
ability to produce attractive books cheaply has overtaken academic
and collegiate concerns without an active decision ever being made,
and that the powers-that-be prove willing to consider whether the
small advantage to libraries is worth the potential great disadvantage
to PhD graduates.

What to do with your thesis


So, given that no reputable publisher will allow you simply to slap a
cover on your thesis and call it a monograph, what do you do with
it? You need to consider two points in conjunction:

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From Thesis to Book

r What kind of book do you wish to write? Consult Chapter 2,


particularly the sections discussing markets and all the hard
thinking required in planning a successful book.
r What needs to be done to produce that book? Assess your mate-
rial to see what is useful and what needs to be added or rewritten,
and assess your schedule to determine whether you will be able
to do the work within a reasonable time.
So, what options do you have, then?
Delay making a decision. This is often the result of thesis fatigue and
the need to do something else for a while. Delay can be positive;
not least, it allows you to stand back from your study and gain some
perspective. The risk, however, is that you lose momentum and never
properly return to the thesis topic. If you delay, you should set yourself
a deadline to ensure that you do eventually make an active decision.
Do nothing. This is a time-honoured and very common default
decision that allows you to spend your time on other projects. The
trouble is that, if you did a good piece of research for your thesis and
actually came up with something new and interesting, then you could
be wasting a treasure-trove. Moreover, much of the research work has
been done; to start a new research project and see this through to a
published work could take far longer than it would take you to rework
your thesis, or even to write a completely new manuscript on the basis
of the thesis research.
Mine your thesis for articles. Certainly, it is quicker and easier to write
an article than a book, and faster publication means that you can assert
your ownership of new ideas and research material before others have
a chance to steal your glory. That said, there are many benefits that
articles do not deliver, such as the opportunity to develop a lengthy
argument, to avoid sharing the limelight with other authors, and to
prove your academic mettle. Remember, however, that the book vs.
article choice need not be an eitheror situation; many authors shape
the bulk of their thesis material into a full-length book, but also spin

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off articles from material either not used in the book or sufficiently
changed so that a publisher will agree that this is essentially different
(and unpublished) material. In theory, it is possible to take an editorial
chainsaw to your thesis, chopping it up into many article-sized logs.
The reality, however, is more likely to be that only two or three of your
chapters are suitable for reworking into articles; if you discount the
book option, the rest of your thesis will be wasted.
Make minimal changes (or in other words, produce a warmed-over
thesis). Thesis fatigue, the pressures of new projects, or sheer lazi-
ness there are many reasons for looking to take a short cut. If one
really must publish a monograph, why not simply slap a new title on
it and run a quick find/replace on the text, swapping all occurrences
of thesis or dissertation with study or book? You can (and peo-
ple do). Just dont expect to get the work published. Why? Because
a thesis is not a book.
Do a partial makeover. This is the most common strategy, essentially
to extract and build on one or more elements of the thesis, with any
leftover material being reworked into articles or used to form the
basis of subsequent research. The virtue of this approach is that you
build on a strong base of coherent material; the downside is that
reworked text is unlikely to be as good as text written from scratch
for its particular purpose.
Rewrite from scratch. The most radical solution to completely
rewrite your material from the ground up normally gives vastly
superior results, but many junior scholars lack the time and mental
energy to carry such a huge task through to its conclusion.

Assessing your material


It is clear that you cannot get published without at least some work,
but how much work is enough? As always, that depends not least
on what you are aiming to achieve and what shape your thesis is in.
For this reason, even before you start putting in all the work that

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is necessary, you need to think ahead. Here, if you havent already


done so, you should (re)visit Chapter 2, especially the sections on
determining what you want for yourself and your book, and what
potential readers of your book will be wanting.
Apart from the considerations involved in planning any kind of
book, for the specialist task of converting a thesis into a book you
need to ask yourself these additional questions:
r What material do I have that is new and interesting to other
scholars?
r Is there enough good material in my thesis to work into a book?
r If more material is needed, what is this? What will be involved in
obtaining it?
r How can my final material be presented in a coherent and inter-
esting way?
r How long will the revision work take?
r Will this (old) work fit in with the (new) work that I am currently
engaged in?
There are some who would argue that a thesis should never be
reworked into a monograph since the radically different nature of a
monograph requires that it be written from scratch. Arguably, this
is true of some theses, but there are also many cases where a thesis
already carries within it the germ of a monograph (usually hidden
somewhere in the middle chapters) that can be brought out and
expanded. Be aware, though, that if you are going to make a good
job of it, the process of rearranging material, polishing it and writing
new links and conclusions can become almost as time-consuming as
writing new text from scratch.1

1 It is not without reason that a nameless wit has revised the Pareto Principle,
observing that the first 90 per cent of an activity takes up 90 per cent of the
time, while the last 10 per cent of the activity demands the other 90 per cent
of the time.

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It takes stamina to get from the rather daunting event of the PhD defence to the
very much jollier occasion of the book launch.

Certainly, there are dangers in reusing material, particularly when


patching together disparate pieces of text; this can jeopardize consist-

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From Thesis to Book

ency and fail to create a coherent voice and storyline within the work.
Nonetheless, there is a very understandable temptation to reuse old
text that on rereading you find really rather good. If you are very care-
ful and critical when you read through your draft text to ensure that it
really does flow and link seamlessly, there is no reason why you should
not be able to produce an excellent book manuscript from reworked
thesis material.

Getting started
Once you have satisfied yourself with real answers to the above ques-
tions and decided to go ahead with a book, you must plan it out in de-
tail. Many of the points you need to consider are discussed in Chapter
2, but there are a few extra issues pertinent to theses arising from the
different processes involved in revising a thesis and writing a book
from scratch.
Deciding when to start. There is no one right time to begin. Start too
soon and you will lack the distance and detachment from your thesis
that is needed if you are to write a monograph that is fresh, lively and
free of thesis baggage. Delay too long and you may lose momentum
and your ready grasp of the subject in all its complexity; worse, your
material may begin to show its age. In any case, soon enough your
hand will probably be forced by the need to make important life and
career choices.
Planning by preparing a comparative table of contents. If what you
are proposing is a monograph derived from a thesis, then especially
useful (not just for planning but later also for making an approach to
a publisher) is to map the similarities and differences between the
two works. An example is overleaf. On the basis of such an analysis,
you will be able to draw up an annotated table of contents that both
describes the content and indicates where the material comes from.
It is this annotated table of contents not the comparative map
that you will use to sell your book proposal to a publisher (as it is
the proposed book, not the original thesis, that is of interest).

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Ayubya, reBuddhism and the GLOBAL WARS OF RELIGION


Origins of the Day of Sorrows Ayubya, reBuddhism and the Origins
Preface of the Day of Sorrows
1. Introduction Drastically
2. Theoretical overview shortened Preface
3. Methology Revised. Starts with an account of the
4. Buddhism: A fascist early hours of the Day of Sorrows.
religion? Condense Then briefly why book is important,
5. Setting how it was researched, how it relates to
6. Origins an impecc- literature on messianic movements, and
able Buddhist family 4. how it questions assumptions on the
7. Early life nature of Buddhism.
8. The novice 1: The making of Ayubya, Shield of
Condense
9. Student life the Buddha
+ rewrite Setting, family background and life up
10. Corporate man
11. Jihadi attacks and the to moment of revelation.
growing Buddhist backlash 2: Jihadi attack, Buddhist backlash
12. Beginnings of the 9/11 and rising conflict w. Islam
ReBuddhist movement Part 3: The way to power
13. Ayubyas rise All Ayubyas rise to power
to power 4: ReBuddhism: Motherless child
14. Vision and reality Condense Origins + nature of ReBuddhism
in Ayubyas ideology 5: Ayubya, America and the war on
15. Ayubya, America and Islam
the war on Islam All Shocking new material on CIA
16. Towards the Day Condense complicity in Ayubyas plans
of Sorrows 6: Day of Sorrows
+ rewrite Dramatic account of attack on Mecca
17. 23 April Day
of Sorrows 7: Towards an age of global wars of
18. Aftermath religion?
References New conclusion. Revisits analysis of
Appendices reBuddhism, also if Ayubyas rise was
Drastically inevitable. Argues that increasing
shortened
Internet sites added domestic religious militancy points the
world towards global wars of religion.
Online only?
References and further reading

A visual plan of attack for turning an imaginery thesis, Ayubya, reBuddhism and
the Origins of the Day of Sorrows, into the book, Global Wars of Religion.

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From Thesis to Book

Things you will need to cut


As is clear in the thesisbook comparison above, there are many
elements in a thesis that do not belong in a book. These need to be
reworked, trimmed to their bare essentials or even chopped away
completely. Do not look at such editing as just a butchers job. Your
work is in fact a rough diamond that by careful cutting and polishing
can be revealed in its full glory.
Literature review. Your study belongs to a specific scholarly discourse
and will be framed by this. As your intended readers are already
familiar with this discourse, it is sufficient that you lightly refer to
this and indicate how your work adds to the debate. Certainly, it is
unlikely that a 100-page review of the theoretical literature to date
will be of interest.
Methodology. Likewise, readers will want to know enough about
your research to help them assess the validity of your argument but
no one will be interested in the minutiae of your methodology.
Quotations. Supporting an argument with the words of an author-
ity in the field is reasonable, but do this judiciously and elegantly:
paraphrasing rather than direct quotation is easier to read. If you
have a lot of direct quotations in your thesis, look to eliminate most
of these in your book.
Tables. Remember that every table is a distraction; it draws the
reader away from the text. For each table, ask yourself: Is this one
necessary? Could it be summarized and reworked into the text in-
stead? Would it be more effective as a figure? Can it be reproduced
legibly on a book-sized page?
Footnotes/endnotes. These are another distraction. The situation is
worse when the note reference system is used because, with com-
ments and citations mixed together, pertinent comments can be
buried in a torrent of citations. For each note, ask yourself: Is this
one necessary? Can citations be clustered or even (for multiple ref-
erences to the same book) collapsed into a single citation? Can you
indeed reduce the number of works cited?
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References. How many people actually read bibliographies apart


from to check if their own work is listed? Cutting your reference list
to only those works truly relevant to your new book will not only
save time and effort for everyone; you will also save a few trees.
However, academic value is (also) measured by the number of cita-
tions a work enjoys, so leave in those references that you feel have
earned their place.
Appendices. Arguably, an appendix is where indigestible material is
left to rot, somewhat out of sight. If you were unable to integrate
such material into your thesis you need to look hard at its usefulness
in your book. Consider placing such material online instead.
Excess material. Some of your thesis text may be very good but too
long or too far off topic to be included in your lean, focused mono-
graph; this excess text must be condensed, rewritten or completely
discarded. The result need not be a complete loss; these offcuts
may form the basis of several good articles (see the next chapter).
Problematic material. There may be all sorts of reasons why mate-
rial that was used in your thesis is problematic in your monograph
(straight copies of maps from another authors book, for instance).
It might be simpler or more appropriate to have such material re-
worked or cut than seek permission to reproduce them unchanged.
Another example is text that is potentially libellous; this may scare
away every publisher you approach. Whatever the reason, have your
eyes open for such material and deal with the situation before it
causes problems in the publication of your monograph.
Stylistic issues. More difficult to remove from your text is not so
much what you have written but the style in which you have writ-
ten it. Examples are language that is obscure, abstract and heavy on
jargon, explanations that are highly technical and overly detailed, and
text plagued by excessive signposting. These and other stylistic is-
sues are dealt with in Chapter 5 and in Appendix 1.

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Things you will need to add


If, as is often the case, the significant contribution that your thesis
makes to scholarship in your field is found in its middle chapters,
then it is unlikely to be enough that you pare away everything else;
something needs to be added.
Coherence. Your book will need to have organic unity, held together
by a clear narrative thread. There is double value in doing this. By
tracing the trajectory of your argument, you will quickly see what
other material you are missing (and what more needs to be cut).
Background material. Theses often have too much background
material but sometimes because the examiners are experts in that
field assumptions are made about what readers will know. What
is needed is sufficient background material to orientate readers and
prepare them for the meat of your study.
New material. Again, the usual problem with theses is too much (not
too little) material. But if you have at all refocused your study from
what appeared in the thesis then gaps will have appeared that must
be filled. Likewise, your subject is unlikely to be static; it will need to
be updated to take recent events, publications, etc. into account.
Introduction. Most thesis introductions are rather pedestrian, whereas
a book can greatly benefit from a short but lively introduction that
whets the readers appetite for the text that is to follow.
Conclusion. Many theses simply end; they fail to draw the threads
of their argument together into a coherent and satisfying whole.
Whether or not your thesis is like this, you will almost certainly
need to rewrite your conclusions to bring them up to date and to
reflect the changed character and focus of your study.
Index. An index is not required until your book is in production, but
even at this early stage it is smart to start thinking about its contents.
Such thinking has an added value; because all that your index will
be is an alphabetical mind map of your study, once you begin jot-

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ting down the various entries and subentries to be included, you can
quickly discover things that might be missing in your text.


Whole books have been written on transforming a thesis into a
monograph but we believe that in this chapter we have covered the
essentials and refer you to Chapter 2 for fuller advice on planning a
monograph. If you now feel all planned out and ready to write, then
it is time to turn to Chapter 5 with its advice on writing a book. If,
however, you also have leftover material from your thesis that was
impossible to include in your book, then you will find it worthwhile
taking a look at Chapter 4.

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